TALLAHASSEE — With little debate Thursday morning, the Florida House health and human services committee voted to eliminate the state's plan for prescription drug monitoring database.
The proposal is a top priority of House Speaker Dean Cannon and Gov. Rick Scott, who say the database doesn't help solve the problem of prescription drug abuse and is an invasion of privacy.
"That database only tracks the problem, it doesn't solve it," said Robert Schenck, chairman of the health and human services committee.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear last month asked Scott to reconsider his opposition. Beshear cited the flow of prescription pills to Kentucky from Florida clinics and maintained that a drug-monitoring database would help solve the problem, but Florida lawmakers disagreed.
Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, expressed disappointment with the Florida legislators' decision. "It's hard to understand the attitude of the governor of Florida; you get the impression that he's not serious about dealing with the problem," Chandler said. "We have never had a problem with patient privacy. That's a red herring. There are safeguards in place and we've had it in Kentucky and we've not had a problem. We've had it for over a decade and it works."
The Florida database was supposed to be up and running by December, but bid protests delayed its launch. An administrative judge this week resolved the dispute, and the maker of OxyContin offered to donate $1 million over the next two years to pay for the program.
Schenck dismissed that offer, which came from Purdue Pharma, saying it's like the "fox guarding the henhouse."
Before the vote to eliminate the database, the committee passed a bill that would prohibit doctors from dispensing narcotics, making the drugs largely available only at pharmacies. The bill also would eliminate registration and inspection of pain clinics, and a ban on felons owning pain clinics. And it would require wholesale distributors of narcotics to report who they are selling the drugs to so law enforcement officials can identify unusually large purchases. The bill calls for appropriating $1.5 million to track down the large, non-pharmacy dispensaries and return the drugs to wholesalers.
The database and regulations of pain clinics are laws that were passed in recent years, but Schenck said there's no evidence those solutions will work.
"I truly believe we need an approach that stops the supply, not tracks the problem," Schenck said. "This stops the supply before another addict is created."
He also noted that there's no requirement for doctors and prescribers to input information into the database, which means scofflaws aren't likely to participate.
The tracking of wholesalers, he said, "will give us a much better picture of where these narcotics are being distributed and given out in an abusive way."
Even supporters of the dispensing ban by doctors expressed concerns that there would be ways around the law if it passes. Some pill mill operators already have pharmacies in their clinics, and others could open pharmacies or create partnerships with existing pharmacies.